Peggy Papp

(1923 – 2021) was an American family therapist

(1923 – 2021) was an American family therapist who pioneered research on the role gender plays in depression. Papp was a senior faculty member of the Ackerman Institute  in New York City for over 50 years, the director of several projects. Her work on gender and depression has been widely lauded. Papp received the American Association for Marriage and Family Therapy’s Lifetime Achievement Award in 1991 and the University of Utah Distinguished Alumni Award in 2003. She and  Olga Silverstein organized the Brief Therapy Project of the Ackerman Institute for Family Therapy, in 1975, after having visited the Milan School.

Pietro Barbetta: She was one of the forerunners in the application of systemic-relational therapy at the Ackerman Institute in New York. She is one of the forerunners of what is emerging today from the practices of the Milan school approach. Thus Papp writes: “In Foucault’s words, the family: ‘is led to go through a state in which it is confronted with itself and inevitably led to discuss its own truth’”.

Peggy Papp writes that the therapeutic group behind the mirror works like the chorus in Greek tragedy. The chorus, in tragedy, has a role external to the work. As if the work took place on two levels: that of the action here and now and that of the choir. This group acts like a Greek choir, conducting a continuous commentary from behind the mirror regarding the interaction between the family and the therapist. It is the voice of the family prophet that proclaims systemic truth in the family and predicts the future course of events.

Umberta Telfener: At the end of the seventies, while I was at the Philadelphia Child Guidance Clinic, I met her, a social worker, a woman of the fifties, refined and simple at the same time, a cornerstone of the Ackerman Institute in New York. She collaborated with Olga Silverstein and Lynn Hoffman and together they experimented – precociously, in unsuspecting times – with active techniques, probably influenced by Peggy’s husband, the famous theater producer and director Joseph Papp, founder of the Public Theater, a refined intellectual. They experimented with mobile sculptures, with family choreography, with the Greek chorus.

She used to tell me how she thought about making the partners move in the room, about making the sculptures move to interrupt the same script, so as not to propose a photograph of the status quo but to hypothesize an evolution, a change. She also intended to access fantasy and metaphors as the main way to enter the relationship: for this reason she asked the participants – often groups of couples gathered together – to close their eyes and have an image of their relationship, to build a metaphor that represented them.

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